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Visual Effects Artists Want Tariffs To Stop Runaway Production Work

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

When it comes to the visual effects crisis hitting Hollywood, there have been several common sense solutions which some believe can off-set the loss of VFX jobs overseas. But some are of the opinion that altering business practices, merging, and lobbying states for comparable tax credits and subsidies don’t go far enough. And they’re advocating a good ol’ fashioned trade war in order to make it harder for overseas competition.


"The business of subsidies is essentially a (shell) game, an unwinnable race to the bottom," visual effects artist Scott Squires.

The idea comes from the notion that attempting to match overseas subsidies dollar for dollar is the wrong way to go, and will result in lower paid positions and unwelcome work conditions, like unpaid overtime. They advocate that government trade authorities be given the power to offer tariffs and trade sanctions to make the process of going overseas for visual effects becoming far more costly than keeping the jobs here in the U.S., where experienced, highly paid artists can work.

Essentially, they want protectionism. And they are willing to pay tribute to get it. Creating the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals, and Technicians (ironically nicknamed “ADAPT”), these advocates have been lobbying Sacramento lawmakers to include wording in pending tax credits and subsidies legislation, and to encourage the federal government to impose tariffs and other trade sanctions to those nations that provide an “unfair and illegal competition,” based on lower average wage of their countries and dollar exchanges.

Lately, numerous FX houses such as SonyLucasfilm, and Rhythm & Hues have opened overseas offices and are in the process of sending even more VFX work there. And studios are reluctant to support any sanctions that would alienate countries like China, which offer the greatest potential in growth, which has provided a windfall of box office sales as the North American box office faces another tough year. And with some VFX artists’ support for the U.S. Trade Commission or the Court of International Trade to provide tariffs and other sanctions could end up alienating that growth and cause a trade war that nobody really wants.

But it’s a tough nut to crack. According to Variety, the Screen Actors Guild tried this tact back in 2007, in an attempt to prevent producers from casting more actors from Canada. The U.S. Trade Representative rejected the notion out of hand, citing “insurmountable politics.” Even the MPAA is against using sanctions, believing that it could endanger ongoing trade negotiations, preferring free trade policies of the current administration. So such a move seems a product of desperation.

But by going to directly to the U.S. Court and bypassing the U.S. Department of Commerce, ADAPT may be able to trigger a mandatory action of sanctions that would carry the effect of law. And the result would be catastrophic, not only for trade relations, but also for movie goers who would likely be impacted by higher ticket and concession prices. And let’s face it, ticket prices go up every year, and if this happens, the ceiling for that would be nowhere in sight.

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